Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 29–32 Prophecy against Egypt
With the exception of the passage ch. Ezekiel 29:17-21 the prophecies against Egypt belong to a time shortly anterior to the fall of Jerusalem or shortly after it. Ch. 29 is dated about seven months before the capture of the city; ch. Ezekiel 30:20 seq. about four months, and ch. 31 about two months before that event, while ch. 32 falls somewhat more than a year and a half later than the destruction. The active participation of Egypt in the affairs of Israel all this time, the hopes reposed in her by the people (Lamentations 4:17), and the disappointments caused by her, explain the large space devoted by the prophet to her character and her destinies in the purposes of Jehovah.
The general thought prevailing in the prophecy is the same as that in other parts of Ezekiel’s book, viz. that Jehovah, God of Israel, is the one true God, and that all the movements among the nations, the overthrow of some and the triumphs of others, are his operations, and that they are but parts of a general rule and direction of the world, the design of which is to make himself known to all the nations as the one living and true God. The two sins for which Egypt, represented by Pharaoh, is chastised are, first, pride of heart which recognizes no God above it, which says, My River is mine, I have made it (Ezekiel 29:3); and second, the deceptive fascination which the imposing and pretentious power of the Nile valley exerted on the people of God, seducing them away from trust in Jehovah alone (cf. Isaiah 30:1-5; Isaiah 31:1-3), and proving always a delusive support (Ezekiel 29:6-7). This reed which, so far from supporting, pierced the hand that leant on it, must be broken for ever, that in the future (the new age about to dawn) the people of Jehovah may no more be tempted to trust in it.
Egypt, however, is a different kind of power both from the petty peoples like Edom and Moab, and from Tyre the great commercial mart of the nations. The smaller nations suffer because of their despite against Israel, and in suffering they learn what Jehovah is. Tyre did not affect to be a conqueror. She was the lady at whose feet the nations laid their tribute of precious ores and jewels, rich cloths and sweet perfumes. The prince of Tyre prided himself upon his wisdom, his skill in seamanship and commerce, his brilliant ingenuity in the arts, and on his beauty and splendour. The sin of Tyre was this ungodly pride of mind, and this wholly secular devotion to trade. But Egypt is a world power. It rules nations (Ezekiel 29:15). It is a great cedar, envied by the trees in the garden of God (Ezekiel 31:9), in the branches of which all the fowls of heaven nest, and under the shadow of which all the beasts of the field bring forth (Ezekiel 31:6). It aspires to universal dominion. Hence in treating of it the prophet’s mind takes a wider sweep. He thinks of Jehovah as God over all, and of his operations as embracing the world. The judgment of Egypt is the day of the Lord (Ezekiel 30:3); it is the time of the Gentiles. Hence its overthrow is felt over the world (Ezekiel 32:10). Creation shudders; the waters stand motionless (Ezekiel 31:15). Jehovah is known to the ends of the earth (Ezekiel 30:19; Ezekiel 30:26).
Each of the four chapters is formed in the main upon the same model, containing first, a general threat of destruction upon Egypt, represented by the Pharaoh, under some allegorical designation (e.g. the crocodile); secondly, a more particular detail of the instrument whom Jehovah shall use (the king of Babylon), the destruction of the country and the dispersion of its inhabitants; to which, thirdly, in several of the chapters a description is added of the effect on the nations and all creation which these terrible convulsions shall produce. These events shall be done on the stage of the world, with mankind as spectators; Jehovah shall brandish his sword in the eyes of the nations, and nature and men will shudder (Ezekiel 32:10). Ch. 32 ends with a dirge chanted over the interment of Pharaoh, which is one of the most weird passages in literature.
Ch. 29 General threat of Judgment on Pharaoh and his people
(1) Ezekiel 29:1-7. Pharaoh is presented under the allegory of a great crocodile inhabiting the waters of the land, and the population as fishes. Jehovah with his hook shall draw him out of his waters, with his fishes cleaving to his scales, and shall cast his carcase upon the desert, where the fowls and the beasts shall batten on him. The causes of this judgment on Pharaoh and his people are, his ungodly pride (Ezekiel 29:3), and the fact that he has always proved a delusive confidence to Israel, seducing them from their single trust in Jehovah (Ezekiel 29:6-7).
(2) Ezekiel 29:8-12. Explanation of the allegory. A great conqueror, stirred up by Jehovah, will overthrow Pharaoh, destroy his people and desolate his land. The inhabitants shall be scattered into all countries, and Egypt shall remain utterly desolate, trodden by the foot neither of man nor beast, for the space of forty years.
(3) Ezekiel 29:13-16. At the end of forty years Egypt shall be restored, but only to attain the rank of a mean power, meaner than all the kingdoms of the earth. It shall no more rule over nations, and no more from its imposing greatness be a temptation to the people of Jehovah to put their trust in it. The term of forty years is considered by the prophet the time of Chaldean supremacy. At the end of this period the world shall be revolutionised.
(4) Ezekiel 29:17-21. A passage of date 570 b.c., probably inserted after the prophecies against Egypt had been reduced to writing—hardly after the book had been published—and suggested by the termination of Nebuchadnezzar’s thirteen years’ siege of Tyre. It consists of a promise to Nebuchadnezzar that Egypt shall be given him as a recompense for the service which he served in Jehovah’s behalf against Tyre, for which service he failed at Tyre to obtain the adequate reward.
In the tenth year, in the tenth month, in the twelfth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,1–7. Pharaoh under the allegory of the crocodile, and the population as fishes. Jehovah draws him out of the waters with his hook and flings him on the land.
Son of man, set thy face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt:
Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.3. the great dragon] i.e. the crocodile. Conversely the present Arabs with some humour name the crocodile “Pharaoh.”
midst of his rivers] The Nile arms and canals.
My river is mine] The Nile. The prophet is well aware what the Nile is to Egypt, and he represents Pharaoh, who, just like the prince of Tyre, is the impersonation of the spirit and disposition of the people of Egypt, as equally well aware. The Nile is the life and the wealth of the land. And Pharaoh in his pride claims to be the creator, the author of it. To the prophet’s profoundly religious mind this is blasphemous arrogance.
made it for myself] A peculiar construction, but not impossible, cf. Zechariah 7:5.
But I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales.4. with hooks. This is suggested by the monster inhabiting the waters. Possibly the crocodile was occasionally caught with hooks, as Herodotus affirms (cf. ch. Ezekiel 32:3), although Job 41:1 seems to doubt the practicability of it. On “hooks,” ch. Ezekiel 38:4; Isaiah 37:29.
fish of thy rivers] A figure for the population of the country of rivers; hardly merely for the army of Pharaoh.
And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven.5. will leave thee thrown] I will throw thee down upon.
brought together] does not differ from “gathered,” meaning “buried,” cf. Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 25:33. The great dragon’s carcase shall be flung upon the fields, which means death to the water monster; and the fowls and beasts shall feed on it. It is not necessary to allegorize the fowls and beasts, they belong to the figure of the carcase, ch. Ezekiel 39:17 seq.; Isaiah 18:6; Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 34:20.
And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel.6. The people of Egypt shall learn as of old who it is that sends such judgments upon them.
staff of reed] A staff or stay which was but a reed, and broke when leant upon (Ezekiel 29:7). Cf. Isaiah 36:6; 2 Kings 18:21. The figure of the reed was natural when speaking of Egypt.
When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand.7. took hold … by thy hand] Rather: take hold of thee with the hand, as Heb. marg. All the verbs are better put in the present: take hold … dost break … dost rend, &c.
madest … to be at a stand] Rather: makest all loins to shake (reading him ‘adta for ha‘amadta, Psalm 69:24).
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring a sword upon thee, and cut off man and beast out of thee.8. The name of the conqueror of Egypt is not indicated in this preliminary threatening. The sword that comes on Egypt is the sword of the Lord, cf. Ezekiel 14:17, Ezekiel 32:11-13. The land shall be utterly desolated, man and beast swept away. It need not be said that these prophetic threatenings have always an element of the ideal in them.
8–12. For this irreligious self-exaltation Egypt shall be made a desolation from Migdol to Syene, even to the border of Ethiopia.
And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the LORD: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it.9. The ungodly overweening pride of Egypt is chiefly mentioned as the cause of its humiliation. It is a common idea that pride draws forth the judgment of Jehovah, who is alone exalted (Isaiah 2, 3). The prophet assumes that this pride is irreligious and an offence against Jehovah. However sedulously devoted the Egyptians might be in serving their own gods, their religion did not prevent this self-deification, which was an offence against him who was God alone.
Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia.10. the tower of Syene] Rather: from Migdol unto Syene—from Lower Egypt to the southern border of Upper Egypt. Migdol is said to have been situated 12 miles S. of Pelusium, upon the N. border of Lower Egypt (Exodus 14:2; Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 46:14; Numbers 33:7). Syene (ch. Ezekiel 30:6), the modern Assouan, on the S. border of Upper Egypt. Cush or Ethiopia lay to the south of Pathros or Upper Egypt; its capital lay near the 4th Cataract, between Abu Hamed and old Dongola.
No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years.11. No foot of man] See Ezekiel 32:13, cf. Ezekiel 33:28, Ezekiel 35:7; Jeremiah 2:6. The desolation of Egypt shall continue forty years, the period of Chaldean supremacy (cf. Ezekiel 4:6).
And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries.12. Cf. Ezekiel 12:15, Ezekiel 26:19, Ezekiel 30:7.
Yet thus saith the Lord GOD; At the end of forty years will I gather the Egyptians from the people whither they were scattered:13. After forty years of desolation Egypt shall be restored, though only to the rank of a humble kingdom. It shall no more rule over the nations (Ezekiel 29:15); and no more be a confidence to the house of Israel, seducing them away from trust in Jehovah alone.
Yet thus saith] For thus. Ezekiel considers forty years—a general expression like Jeremiah’s seventy years—to be the period of Babylonian supremacy in the world. At the end of this period a change in the aspect of the world shall supervene under Jehovah’s guidance; Israel will be restored (ch. Ezekiel 4:6), and the other nations subject to Babylon shall be reinstated. Egypt shall be restored though only to be a humble state in comparison of her former greatness. For people peoples.
And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom.14. land of Pathros] i.e. Upper Egypt or the Thebaid, ch. Ezekiel 30:14, Isaiah 11:11; Jeremiah 44:15. The name is said to mean “south land.”
their habitation] their origin, or birth, cf. Ezekiel 16:3. For the phrase “bring again the captivity” i.e. probably turn the fortunes, cf. Ezekiel 16:53.
a base kingdom] i.e. a low or humble state, ch. Ezekiel 17:6; Ezekiel 17:14.
It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.
And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.16. the confidence] Cf. Isaiah 30:2-3; Isaiah 36:4; Isaiah 36:6.
bringeth iniquity to remembrance] The phrase occurs again Numbers 5:15; 1 Kings 17:18; Ezekiel 21:23-24, and appears to mean to accuse before God. The phrase here is scarcely in apposition to “confidence,” but is rather parallel to that word and a further description of Egypt—no more a confidence and a reminder of iniquity. Egypt was a seduction to Israel, leading them to trust in it and distrust Jehovah; it was an accuser of Israel before Jehovah, calling Israel’s iniquity to his mind. The iniquity lay primarily in trusting in Egypt, but it might be wider and more general (1 Kings 17:18).
when they shall look] Rather: in their turning after them—in Israel’s turning to the Egyptians for help. Cf. Ezekiel 23:27, and on Ezekiel 10:11. In the happy time of Israel’s restoration not only shall attack and enmity on the part of the surrounding nations be removed, but all temptation also to look to any for salvation but their God alone.
they shall know] seems said of Israel. See last note.
That Ezekiel names a term of forty years as the period of Chaldean supremacy, and looks for the turn of the world’s affairs in Jehovah’s hand in so short a space of time is in conformity with the manner of representation in all the prophets. To all the day of the Lord is near (Joel 2:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Isaiah 7). In Isaiah 23 seventy years are named as the period of Tyre’s humiliation, at the end of which time she shall be remembered and dedicate her hire to the Lord. In Jeremiah this period is the duration of the captivity of Judah. Such numbers as forty, seventy are general. They imply however that the prophets conceived of the time as comparatively short. It is less easy to suggest an explanation of this mode of conception. What has been named “perspective” in prophecy offers no explanation, for this so-called perspective is but another name for the thing to be explained. The explanation is to be sought rather on these lines: 1. The prophets deal with principles, with what might be called absolute conceptions. Such conceptions are good and evil, Jehovah and the false gods, true religion and idolatry, the kingdom of Jehovah and the power of the heathen world. What the prophets depict is usually a conflict of these principles, and every conflict which they perceive seems to them the absolute and final one, because it is a conflict of principles. True religion comes out of the struggle victorious—the Kingdom is the Lord’s. 2. Moving thus among principles the mind of the prophets either took no note of time, or else as they deal in general with great movements of their own day, these present or imminent movements assume an absolute moral and religious meaning. They appear the embodiment of the principles which fill the prophetic mind. Consequently their issue is the final decision, which therefore appears at hand. When the prophets embody their general conception of the nearness of the final crisis in numbers, these numbers are usually round, and express merely a powerful religious presentiment.
Ezekiel 29:17-21. A later passage of date 570, sixteen years after the fall of Jerusalem, written probably after Nebuchadnezzar’s thirteen years’ siege of Tyre had come to an end, and inserted among the prophecies relating to Egypt already collected. Nebuchadnezzar had served a great service for Jehovah against Tyre, for which neither he nor his army had received wages. Jehovah will recompense him for his service against Tyre by giving him the land of Egypt.
And it came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it:18. On spelling of Nebuchadnezzar cf. Ezekiel 26:7, Ezekiel 30:10.
every head made bald] Not by the length of time but by the hard service, the rubbing of the armour or the burdens borne on head and shoulder. Arabic poets refer to the baldness caused by the headpieces. The siege of Tyre lasted thirteen years, but while this is well attested history is silent as to the issue of the siege. Whatever the issue was Neb. and his army did not reap adequate reward from it—he had no wages for his service done for Jehovah.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army.19. take her multitude] i.e. carry away. Others: her wealth, or abundance, but wrongly, cf. Ezekiel 30:4; Ezekiel 30:10; Ezekiel 30:15, Ezekiel 31:2; Ezekiel 31:18. The words rather disturb the vigorous “spoil her spoil” (Ezekiel 38:12-13), and are wanting in LXX.
I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord GOD.20. for his labour] Rather: as his recompense for which he served.
because they wrought] Or, for that which they wrought for me. The subject is still Neb. and his army; it was Jehovah’s work in which they served against Tyre.
In that day will I cause the horn of the house of Israel to bud forth, and I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.21. The passage concludes with a promise to Israel.
In that day] An indefinite term common in all the prophets. The ref. is to the general time when Neb. shall have humbled Egypt. After that shall the time of Israel’s prosperity come in. Cf. Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 19:18-19.
the horn of the house] I will cause a horn to bud forth to the house of Israel. The “horn” is the symbol of power (Lamentations 4:3); with the budding of the horn power waxes or is exhibited. The ref. is general, to the restoration of Israel to prosperity and influence, hardly particularly to the raising up of the personal Messiah (Psalm 132:17). On figure cf. 1 Kings 22:11; Amos 6:13; Jeremiah 48:25; 1 Samuel 2:1.
the opening] opening of. The prophet felt his mouth closed by the incredulity of the people, and the improbability, as it seemed to them, of his predictions. His mouth was opened and he had boldness of speech when his anticipations were verified. It is the causing of a horn to bud to Israel that will give the prophet opening of the mouth. All his prophecies since the exile had been prophecies of Israel’s restoration, and Israel’s restored felicity will fulfil them. The phrase give thee opening of the mouth means little more than give verification to thy words. The idea of the prophet’s own presence when this occurs is hardly to be pressed.